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Hiking along the Mitake Valley in Okutama

I'm lying. Exaggerating. It's not hiking; it's walking.

As a matter of fact, the Mitake Valley Riverside Trail has given me a new definition of walking vs hiking: if you encounter vending machines along the way, it's walking, not hiking.

I've done several hikes in Okutama, but I'm going to start with this walk because anybody can do it. It's exceptionally beautiful, truly pleasant and very easy. You don't need to be an experienced hiker, you don't need hiking boots, you don't need energy drinks – or Scotch – to keep going.

Taking a photo of photo-taking

It starts at Ikusabata Station on the Ōme Line, follows the Tama River and ends about 5 km upstream. It took me about two hours of slow walking, many photos, frequent diversions and arbitrary stops to enjoy the autumn colours.

Let's do this section by section. Warning: this post is photo-heavy!

Ikusabata to Sawai

It takes 90 minutes from Tokyo Station. Take the Chūō Line to Ōme, transfer to the Ōme Line and get off at Ikusabata Station. Walk towards the river. When you get to Ikusabata Bridge, turn right. Walk about 500 m down the highway and watch out for these signs. That's it. Off you go. 

Ikusabata Bridge



(I still don't know how to embed maps I've created myself, but you'll find it here.)

Screenshot of my map

This part doesn't have the best autumn colours, but it's the most interesting for a hiker, since it's along an uneven trail and you encounter few other people except fishermen and genki local old-timers.

Even brick yards are beautiful in Okutama.





Sawai to Mitake

This is the main part of the hike, and also the busiest, especially in autumn. It's all very civilized with a paved path, vending machines and several rustic-with-great-determination restaurants as well as a ryokan, a sake brewer and the Gyokudō  Museum, which showcases the works of Kawai Gyokudō¹  (
川合 玉堂).

I was there early in the season, and it was already buzzing with mostly retired folk travelling – and chattering – en masse. This is a popular spot for canoeing and rafting, and while I'm happy to grant water folk their joy, their web of ropes across the river spoils a photographer's fun a bit.

Standing on a bridge near Sawai Station









Hmph!

Standing on a bridge near Mitake Station

Past Mitake

The trail continues past Mitake to the Okutama Fishing Centre. This section is relatively quiet, and though it doesn't have as many maples, it's still beautiful.


Okutama Fishing Centre

Fishing! ^^



Fashion

I've accepted that appearance is everything in Japan, and that means that every activity has its uniform. A chef wears a white hat, an OL wears an ill-fitting gray pencil skirt with black knee socks, and a hiker … wears an all-weather parka, short cargo pants, compression tights, thick multi-coloured woollen socks and hiking shoes that probably cost half my annual income. This is combined with a backpack crammed full of water, green tea and onigiri; smartphone, mini-tablet and tablet; mascara, tissues and tooth brush. All this is to travel to the destination by train, bus and ropeway; have a picnic at a designated picnic spot with a washroom and vending machines; and return via the same route. They travel in packs.

I observed this crowd in the train, and then watched an ojiisan. He was probably in his seventies, dressed in a raggedy sweater, creased khaki pants and scuffed hiking boots that have clearly covered a few thousand miles. He had a small backpack and a large paper map. He was alone.

If I ever get lost in the mountains, call that old guy, OK?

Hiking vs walking

I've written about this before, but what the heck, here we go again.

This trail is not hiking; it's a leisurely stroll that a Tokyo woman could do in her stiletto boots. Let's face it, a Tokyo woman could do anything in high heels.

It's easier to explain what hiking is not. It's not hiking if …

1) mere mortals, as opposed to Tokyo women, can do it in sneakers
2) you walk past vending machines
3) you get there via ropeway
4) you don't at least fleetingly think of bears, giant hornets and twisted ankles (if you need to consider twisted necks, that's mountain climbing, not hiking)
5) you don't have to carry water and food with you
6) you've never had to pee behind a bush
7) you can get to the nearest station within one hour
8) you don't get sweaty, dusty or muddy
9) you don't know how to navigate without GPS and even, in an emergency, without a map; or the very idea of a pocket knife makes you nervous
10) couch potatoes can do it

Number 9, by the way, is really not that difficult. You can check the position of the sun or stars, shadows fall in certain directions, rivers flow in valleys towards the sea, you can use your watch and the position of the sun to determine direction. Even plants can help you.²

I'd say 99% of what Tokyoites call "hiking" is actually walking. If you want to see real hiking, look at Orchid's blog, Life to reset, about hiking in Nepal.

Fresh flower in the spotlessly clean toilet at Ikusabata
Station. Squatting behind susuki not necessary.

Entrance to restaurant in Sawai

I think they meant branches ...

Dru and Japan Australia were here!

The flowers below are called hototogisu (杜鵑草 or ほととぎす) in Japanese. Yes, you're right, it's named after the lesser cuckoo ( Cuculus poliocephalus ), because they're both shy woodland creatures. Its  scientific name is Tricyrtis hirta. Tricyrtis, which is based on the Greek words tri (three) and kyrtos (swelling or bulging), refers to the three sack-like nectaries at the base of the tepals. They're out of focus in my photo, but you can see them towards the base of the flower. The flower's English name is … hairy toad lily. Wait, what? Apparently that's because the nectaries resemble "toadlike bumps" and the petals are spotted like a toad. Read more about the flower here.



You didn't really think I'd conclude this post without a shrine or temple, did you?
This one is in Sawai.


A bell in Sawai (at another temple)

The bell has an unusual, beautiful painted ceiling.

Notes

1) Kawai Gyokudō was born in Aichi Prefecture in 1873. After World War II, he moved to Tama City, Tokyo, where he devoted himself to painting until his death.

2) Recommended books: Come Back Alive by Robert Young Penton and The Encyclopedia of Survival Techniques by Alexander Stilwell.

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